The game versus LSU was interesting for a lot of reasons, in both good ways and bad. Obviously, Kentucky finally winning a close basketball game is an unalloyed good thing, but having to do it from behind at home doesn't exactly give fans that warm and fuzzy feeling. In fact, I confess to feeling very negative about the last moments of the game, probably because we have, until now, seen Kentucky falter in these kinds of moments.
But before we get any further, let's once again congratulate the LSU Tigers on a very good game. LSU is one of the most talented teams in the conference, probably the third most talented behind the Kentucky Wildcats and Florida Gators, although the Tennessee Volunteers might deserve to be in that debate as well. What makes LSU so good is the size of their front line, quickness of their guards, and depth of their bench. They should be much better than they are, and if they played every team as if they were Kentucky, I shouldn't wonder if they were 23-4 rather than 16-10.
Having said all that, let's make no mistake — Kentucky played a poor game, statistically, yesterday. The Wildcats missed the vast majority of jumpshots they took, no matter how close or far, and they did the right thing by giving up on jumpshooting altogether and just slashing to the rim. Also, the slow start raised it's ugly head again, this time both at the start of the game and to start the second half.
Let's look at the numbers, courtesy of Kenpom.com:
Kentucky shot the ball as badly as I have seen them shoot it all year, from everywhere. LSU defended well, but my complaint regards missed layups and missed wide-open jumpshots. Julius Randle must have missed five layups himself. Alex Poythress missed a dead-bang unguarded two-handed layup. Andrew Harrison missed two or three relatively easy layups. All in all, Kentucky missed nine layups. LSU missed a much more reasonable four. But thankfully, we didn't miss the one that counted.
Honestly, Kentucky didn't defend that bad. LSU just made a bunch of tough, guarded shots, particularly from three. There were transition breakdowns, though, that deserve to be mentioned, and there were quite a few. Kentucky allowed LSU to get 14 transition offensive opportunities, and they shot an eFG% of 64% in those transition attempts. Compare that with 41% of non-transition attempts, and you'll see this was indeed a problem.
Having said that, Kentucky let LSU get into transition 21 times (33%) in Baton Rouge, so it isn't exactly the reversion that some might think.
Conversely, Kentucky got into transition quite a bit as well, 12 times. They shot an eFG% of 58%, compared to 39% in non-transition offense.
Kentucky outrebounded LSU on the offensive glass, but not by much. It was enough, though, because the last OR they got was a game-winner.
Kentucky assisted in only 18% of made baskets. That's a low number, and that's pretty much what we saw — a lot of one-on-one play in this game. That was a deliberate coaching move on Calipari's part, because LSU simply could not guard Kentucky in the lane without fouling them. In the end, it was the strategy that delivered the win, but it made the basketball game look ugly to the eye.
Can't complain about 77% free throw shooting.
Turnovers were a tiny bit higher than you'd like, but not too bad. [Correction: I must have been looking at LSU's TO% when I wrote this. 15% turnovers is super-fine.]
11% 3-point shooting is just not good. I've never heard of a streak-shooting team, but this UK squad looks like one. They either make a lot, or they struggle. They were smart to take only nine.
UK could not keep Johnny O'Bryant III off the glass. LSU could not keep Julius Randle off the glass.
When are these guys going to learn to keep their hands up guarding the perimeter? Calipari lamented that yet again in his post-game remarks.
Aaron Harrison had a superb game overall. I thought his defense was okay, but where he really shone was getting to the rim, and making all his free throws. He did exactly what Calipari asked him to do. Game ball.
No doubt Julius Randle deserves an honorable mention. He did, after all, make the game winner, and he played great defense on Anthony Hickey's final shot in regulation.
James Young was ... well, he was James Young. He had good moments, bad ones, crazy ones, dumb ones. But overall, he was good. Those last two free throws he made in OT probably saved the game, but the ones he missed really hurt. As I said, because James Young.
Andrew Harrison played okay, but shot badly. He made two huge free throws to get UK to overtime, but he took some really bad shots. He had 2 blocks, though, which is a new wrinkle to his game. He also got beat regularly by Hickey, but that's not really surprising, since small guards have given him trouble all year, and Hickey is a good one.
Alex Poythress was so-so. He only got one rebound, but he had a ridiculous block and a steal.
Dakari Johnson seemed out of sorts early, got his bearings back, and played a fair game. Loved the two made free throws.
Willie Cauley-Stein had a decent game. I thought he could have defended better, but he did get 3 blocks.
Marcus Lee came in, seemed to play well for a couple of possessions, had a big put-back, and then disappeared for the rest of the game. I do wonder why he didn't play a little more.
Dominique Hawkins defended well while he was in, but he is a huge offensive liability right now. He has no confidence in his shot.
Jarrod Polson played very sparingly, only 4 minutes.
Kentucky really didn't play that badly in this game, they mostly just shot the ball badly. Their shot selection was okay, but there were still too many lobs when there was nobody to lob to, and too many breakdowns on defense, particularly in transition. A big positive is the way they managed to tough out the win in overtime from behind, which gets a little bit of the bad luck in close games off their necks.
Overall, though, the game was not one of their best, and to have to struggle like that at home is never a good thing. One way to look at it is that they were due for a bad shooting game after shooting well in the last two. The glass half-full view is that they won the game in spite of that.
On the other hand, struggling against a 16-10 team at home doesn't exactly make visions of Final Fours dance through our collective heads, even if it shouldn't be cause for too much negativity. I think all of us can agree that Kentucky needs to show better than this to be considered a real threat in the NCAA Tournament.
Having said that, I'm really happy to have this win. Next up are the Arkansas Razorbacks, who did to UK in Fayetteville what the Wildcats did to LSU in Lexington yesterday.